Learning from the past is important as they say otherwise you’ll repeat the same mistakes. Can we learn from old traditional designs, or techniques and apply them to modern design? Are all earlier design’s and technology inferior?
External frame backpacks are interesting not only of their more versatile modularity but also because the structural component of the pack is clearly visible and offers a great opportunity to explore structural innovation. New technology and new materials open new opportunities. The civilian backcountry and mountaineering community have generally been at the cutting edge of pack innovation with the mantra “every gram counts”.
From the first recognised commercially made external frame in 1952 when Asher “Dick” Kelty started the Kelty brand from their garage in Glendale, California. One of the biggest innovators in backpack design, Kelty was not only one of the first to produce and market external-frame backpacks specifically for civilian use, but Kelty is also considered to be the inventor of the rectangular aluminium framed backpack, the hip belt, using nylon, adding zippers to the pack pockets and the padded shoulder straps Jump forward a few years and the emergence of The ALICE (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) load-bearing system, was adopted as United States Army on 17 January 1973 to replace the M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE). A simple pack that took-pretty much anything you threw at it. Its critical vulnerability being the aluminium frame and the dreaded rivet pop.
Since then there have been variants of the ALICE Frame that have come and gone in plastics, metal, polymers but all still largely drawing on the tech and innovation of the original 1973 adopted system. Jump forward to 1985 and Ian Malley’s WE SAS Pack design and pack out of the left field that was widely accepted and adopted across the big army.